Summer 2022 NeuroNex Research Experience for Undergraduates

2022 REU dates: June 6 – August 12

Summer 2022 positions have been filled.

2022 NeuroNex Projects

Prof. Chris Xu – “Developing New Techniques for Optical Imaging of the Brain”
Our lab develops new techniques for optical imaging of the brain structure and function. We are pushing for imaging depth, imaging field-of-view, and imaging speed. In addition, we are creating new laser and fiber optic systems that are optimized for our imaging requirement. Possible projects include microscope building, laser development, software for controlling the laser and the microscope, etc. Students will be paired with postdocs or senior graduate students to work as a part of a project team. We are looking for students who are physics and engineering oriented, but with a strong desire to apply the physics and engineering methods to solve real world problems.

Prof. Chris Schaffer – “Understanding How Spinal Cord Neurons Control Limb Movement and Gait”
Our lab uses multiphoton excited fluorescence microscopy to observe biological systems in living animals. This powerful optical technology allows us to observe tissues at subcellular resolution and investigate how signaling cells, such as neurons, communicate with each other to coordinate movement and gait in live animals. We are specifically interested in understanding how neurons in the spinal cord form functional circuits, called Central Pattern Generators, to coordinate limb movement and allow animals to walk, run, and perform tasks. To accomplish this goal, we must be able to observe neural firing activity within the spinal cord, and then correlate those activity patterns with quantified limb movement in mice that are awake and running. The student working on this project will be given primary responsibility for developing a limb tracking system capable of following specific points on the paw, limb and back of a mouse while it runs on a treadmill. The ideal student will have working knowledge in computer science and MATLAB.

Prof. Nilay Yapici – “3P Microendoscopic Imaging of Neural Activity During Food Intake in the Mouse Brainstem”
Hungry animals seek out any appetible food resource available. Conversely, sated animals are more selective in deciding which food they consume, suggesting the metabolic state of the animals (e.g., hungry versus sated) alter the sensory evaluation of the food source (e.g., how the food tastes). In mice and other mammals, gustatory detection of food is mediated by the peripheral taste organs; the tongue, palate and the pharynx which are innervated by cranial nerve fibers that project to the rostral nucleus of the solitary track (rNTS). The rNTS also receives direct or indirect input from the hypothalamic AgRP and POMPC neurons that monitor the metabolic state of animals and adjust food intake. Therefore, local micro circuits in the rNTS are well positioned to regulate taste perception, taste coding and food ingestion based on the metabolic state of animals. However, investigating the functions of distinct classes of neurons in the rNTS at cellular resolution has been technically challenging particularly because of the location of this brain area; rNTS is located deep in the brainstem below the cerebellum, which limits optical access to this brain region. To circumvent challenges of deep brain imaging, microendoscopy has been developed for in vivo calcium imaging to capture neural activity. By embedding a Gradient-index lens (GRIN lens) in the mouse brain, neural activity in deep brain regions such as the Ventral Tegmental Area (VTA) or Hypothalamus can be imaged at cellular resolution.In this project, we will optimize the use of a state of the art 3-photon (3P) microendoscope to image the neural dynamics at cellular resolution in the rNTS in awake behaving mice. We think, our project will provide critical information to understand the rNTS circuits that integrate taste and metabolic signals in the brainstem.

Prof. Joseph Fetcho – “Imaging Structure and Function of Neurons in Intact Zebrafish Brains”
The project involves using the latest optical methods to explore the structure and function of neurons in the hindbrain of zebrafish that control movements. We are especially interested in how the organization of the neurons changes as the fish grow from larvae into adulthood. The work will involve imaging into the brain of intact transgenic fish that express genetically encoded fluorescent calcium sensors to explore how neurons are activated during behavior, or fluorescent proteins that label the cells to reveal their structure. This will be done at different times from larvae into adulthood.


COVID-19 Notice

Due to the uncertainties surrounding the COVID-19 situation in New York, the Cornell NeuroNex REU program reserves the right to make modifications to the REU Program features and requirements, as needed. Project descriptions will indicate which projects cannot run remotely, should circumstances require a shift to a remote or hybrid program. Applicants will be notified of all developments and changes to program requirements.